District 211 threatens to abandon transgender agreement

 
 
Updated 12/6/2015 1:13 AM
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  • Superintendent Daniel Cates and Palatine-Schaumburg School District 211 school board President Mucia Burke listen Wednesday to a speaker during a discussion about a proposed settlement to the long-running dispute over a transgender student's access to locker rooms.

      Superintendent Daniel Cates and Palatine-Schaumburg School District 211 school board President Mucia Burke listen Wednesday to a speaker during a discussion about a proposed settlement to the long-running dispute over a transgender student's access to locker rooms. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates

    Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates

Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 officials have scheduled a special school board meeting for Monday at which the recently approved agreement over a transgender student's access to locker rooms could be rescinded.

The district threatened Friday afternoon to reconsider the controversial agreement unless the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights stops characterizing it as giving the student unrestricted access.

The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7, at James B. Conant High School, 700 E. Cougar Trail in Hoffman Estates.

The OCR declined to comment Friday afternoon, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the student, responded by renewing its own argument against District 211's stance to restrict its client's access.

District 211 Superintendent Dan Cates issued a statement in which he expressed outrage by district officials over what he called the bad-faith actions of the OCR in describing the recently approved agreement. U.S. Department of Education Press Secretary Dorie Turner Nolt said her agency would not be responding to his comments.

Cates' statement reads as follows:

"On the heels of what was an appropriate and balanced approach to resolving an important issue of access to our locker rooms by one transgender student, we are outraged by the mischaracterizations in the press by Catherine Lhamon of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and her blatant disregard for the facts of the negotiated agreement.

"The OCR appears to be stating to the media what they wish was in the agreement, rather than what was actually agreed upon by both OCR and the District 211 board of education -- after the board spent countless hours of listening, reviewing and careful consideration.

"It is wrong, it is an act of bad faith, and our school district will not let it stand.

"To be clear, what was agreed upon between District 211 and the OCR struck a critical balance for safeguarding the privacy of all students, recognizing the dignity of all students, and allowing all students to participate fully in our education programs.

"The resolution agreement's provisions on locker room access, approved by our school board just 36 hours ago, apply ONLY to the student who lodged the complaint. It does not apply districtwide, nor set precedent for other school districts in the country. It gives this student access to the gender-identified locker room with this student's stated assurance that privacy curtains will be used.

"And, if this student doesn't comply, access will no longer be allowed. The agreement also removes the threat of the loss of federal funds and states that no violation of Title IX or discrimination by the district has occurred.

"We communicated to the OCR that we expected a full retraction of their inaccurate portrayal of the agreement in the media. They refused. Failing that, we will convene an emergency board meeting to discuss taking action, including the potential retraction of the agreement because the OCR acted in bad faith. Citizens have a right to expect more from a federal agency than smoke and mirrors."

The District 211 board of education approved the agreement by a 5-2 vote early Thursday morning. Statements made by both the district and the OCR later that day demonstrated different interpretations of its language.

ACLU of Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka released a statement in response to Cates' that reads:

"Superintendent Cates' intemperate and inflammatory statements this afternoon are disappointing. Clearly, the district remains committed to a path of discrimination and division, rather than moving toward healing, understanding and inclusion.

"In its letter of findings, OCR found the district in violation of Title IX for refusing to allow our client in the locker room unless she agreed to change behind a privacy curtain. Similarly, the resolution agreement fails to condition our client's locker room access on whether she uses the privacy curtains.

"Our client should be treated as every teenage girl, with the right to exercise her own sense of modesty and privacy. Threatening to cut off our client's access to the locker room if she does not promise to use the privacy curtains exclusively simply moves her current segregation from a separate room to a space inside the locker room, as OCR already concluded.

"After being caught in their repeated misrepresentations of this matter over several weeks, it is strange to see the district accuse someone else of acting in 'bad faith' and engaging in 'smoke and mirrors.'

"It is time to end this hostile and cynical public relations campaign and for the leadership of District 211 to create an open and welcoming environment for all students -- as other school districts in Illinois and the nation have already done."

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